On the weekend of July 7 the UFC Hall of Fame will welcome in one of the more deserving fighters to ever grace the inside of the Octagon. Tito Ortiz, also known as “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” will take his rightful place next to other legends including long-time adversary Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, Royce Gracie and another of Ortiz’s bitter rivals, Ken Shamrock. The event will precede Ortiz’s last fight for the organization which will come against Forrest Griffin in the third fight of their trilogy.
All but one of Ortiz’s 28 career fights has been for the UFC. He began his career as a 22-year-old wrestler with very little training against Wes Albritton at UFC 13 on May 30, 1997. He would defeat Albritton via first round TKO and go on to face Guy Mezger that very same night. It was Mezger’s 20th career fight and his experience showed as he submitted the very green Ortiz via Guillotine Choke in just three minutes.
Who knew back then that Ortiz would go on to become one of the most successful fighters in and out of the cage? In his fifth career fight Ortiz would take on Frank Shamrock for the vacant UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. Once again the experience edge was clear as Shamrock waited for Ortiz to tire himself out and defeated the much bigger Ortiz with just 18 seconds left in the fourth round. That fight was voted Fight of the Year in 1999 and just seven months later Ortiz defeated Wanderlei Silva to capture the light heavyweight title.
Ortiz would go on to defend the title five consecutive times over the span of of two and a half year before losing it to Randy Couture at UFC 44. Ortiz went on to face Liddell for the first time at UFC 47 and lost via second round TKO. He never regained the title he coveted and loved so much, but he would earn another opportunity after winning five fights in a row. This time the champion was “The Iceman” and while Ortiz put on a better performance than he did in their first bout he lost via third round TKO.
For the next four years Ortiz would go on to fight just once a year compiling an0-3-1 record against Rashad Evans (draw) and losses to Lyoto Machida, Griffin and Matt Hamill. Between injuries, disputes with UFC President Dana White and the time off it was evident Ortiz was nowhere near the fighter he was earlier in his career despite the fact that he was only 35-years-old. Time had not been kind to Ortiz’s body and he made his share of excuses, but he was a proud man and still worked as hard as ever. The sport was full of younger fighters who were trained in all disciplines and were passing Tito by.
Regardless of his record the Ortiz’s fans still loved to watch him compete and he repaid them for their loyalty with a stunning first round submission over the much younger Ryan Bader at UFC 132. Even his biggest detractors were happy for him and it was nice to see his hand raised after a fight after he had failed to win over the course of five consecutive fights. Ortiz endeared himself to fans even more when he replaced an injured Phil Davis against Evans at UFC 133. The time between the two fights was barely over a month and while I am sure he was taken care of financially he still took a gamble fighting the number one contender on such notice.
In a rematch of their 2007 fight Ortiz looked good early on, but Evans would eventually prevail and score a second round TKO. Ortiz nearly choked Evans out early on in the fight and the fans support was clearly evident. White and the UFC awarded the two the Fight of the Night bonus and it was clearly well deserved. A more mature, grateful, older Ortiz had replaced the younger, brash, egotistical fighter who was always ay war with someone whether it was White or his opponents. He even renamed himself “The People’s Champion,” and there weren’t too many people complaining about him stealing wrestling superstar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s longtime nickname.
He would go on to face Brazilian light heavyweight Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 140 and was finished off at 3:15 of the first round. It was rather difficult to watch Ortiz get pounded on, but he wanted to go out on his own terms and the UFC was prepared to allow him that last wish. After so many big fights and memorable moments, Ortiz announced he would finish off his contract and retire. His last opponent would be another fan favorite and a man he has split two fights with, Griffin. I spoke to Griffin and he was very complimentary of Ortiz and seemed to enjoy the fact that he would be his last fight.
It’s so fitting that Ortiz will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame before his last fight on one of the biggest cards in the company’s history. Ortiz and Griffin have had two memorable fights and there is no reason to think this one will be any different. The old saying goes, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” and I think this will be the case when Ortiz steps out of the Octagon for the final time. He has helped other fighters by demanding a higher salary, being paid a portion of the pay-per-view income and by branching out into the mainstream. His legacy will be more than that of a former champion it will be as one of the more successful mixed martial artists to ever put a pair of four ounce gloves on.
PHOTO CREDIT – UFC